I sometimes wonder why the big firms spend so much on advertising consumer goods when all they need to do is to keep up the dull, faceless routine of the factories and the standardized grey cement of the workers' apartment blocks. For, as a Times leader pointed out in April 1974. 'It is boredom, not exercise, that creates our appetite.' Eli Chinoy's careful study of automobile workers in the United States shows that the only visible way left for them :o acquire a sense of identity and value among their fellows is by acquiring material possessions. New living-room furniture, a washing machine and colour television are the only available confirmation that one is getting ahead. And James Weaver, the American economist, shows up the inner hollowness of the whole structure of growth economy in the simple statement: 'If all of us decided that our homes were adequate, our cars satisfactory, our clothing sufficient, our present sort of economics would collapse tomorrow. For it is built on the assumption that man's wants are insatiable.' - John V Taylor, Enough is Enough (1975)
With the credit crunch, part of which is clearly responsible for the demise of Woolworths, perhaps it is time to re-assess our habits and move to gifts - such as World Gifts, or its equivalents in Oxfam - which actually help other people and move towards a more sustainable society not fueled by growth.
Woolworths was in a financial mess anyway, but the change in spending patterns was the last straw that broke its economic back. Other retails are also feeling the squeeze. The UK Government, terrified at the thought of a cessation of growth, is lowering VAT, and trying to get the banks to lend more. It is a case of "If we are lucky, we can spend out way out of recession". As an article in New Scientist noted:
SCRATCH the surface of free-market capitalism and you discover something close to visceral fear. Recent events provide a good example: the US treasury's extraordinary $800 billion rescue package was an enormous comfort blanket designed to restore confidence in the ailing financial markets. By forcing the taxpayer to pick up the "toxic debts" that plunged the system into crisis, it aims to protect our ability to go on behaving similarly in the future. This is a short-term and deeply regressive solution, but economic growth must be protected at all costs.
But this growth strategy was not possible in Jersey during the Occupation. A very different society was in place. Presents were "swaps", perhaps books, jigsaws, games, given so that another person could share the enjoyment of them. Food waste was cut to a minimum, because you could not afford to waste a gram of food. Clothes were patched, mended, and passed on to other people. Now I am not saying we should return to the near-starvation culture of those times, but it does provide an interesting contrast and, as with the wartime frugality in the UK, shows that such changes are possible (even if they were imposed from outside), and not just daydreams. On the contrary, those changes were needed to survive. Sustainability is always an alternative in times of need.
It might be argued that we need growth to support services. But the Sustainable Development Commission is taking this seriously in its report "Redefining Prosperity". One section deals with this - here is just the summary:
Confronting Structure was about taking the arguments against continuing growth seriously and thinking through the consequences. If the economy no longer grows, or grows at a much slower rate, what happens to - unemployment, tax revenue, the ability to repay debt and pay interest, company profits and economic competitiveness? Can we imagine any government pursuing this line of thinking? Or will they be forced to because of economic pressures creating long-term recession?
Isn't it time to say "Enough is Enough"?
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